A spokeswoman for Creative Agents in Los Angeles told the Sunday Star-Times Connery had declined the role of Gandalf in the $260 million adaptation of Tolkien's fantasy trilogy, due to start filming in New Zealand from September.
Connery was starring in several films over the next 14 months and could not commit to the time involved in filming Lord of the Rings, the spokeswoman said. "He's doing a whole bunch of movies and it's a personal thing, due to the scheduling."
However, Hollywood hunk Keanu Reeves is apparently interested in a role - The Matrix and Speed star told an Australian magazine he had been petitioning Jackson's people to play Aragon, one of the lead roles. A spokeswoman for Reeves's agent, Lesley Dart, in New York, said Reeves had not yet seen a script and would not comment further.
New Zealand agents for the film are keeping tightlipped about who might be involved. Sian Clements, Jackson's publicist, would not comment about news that Connery was no longer interested. The big roles were being cast now and an announcement was likely in about a month. They would be filled by a mix of famous actors and unknown, she said.
The Hollywood rumour mill has been working overtime - others touted to play one of the main characters include Bruce Willis, Danny de Vito and Anthony Hopkins.
Hollywood casting agents apparently suggested Hopkins would be good for Gandalf. A spokeswoman for his agent said The Silence of the Lambs star had not yet seen a script. "He hasn't shown any interest but that's not to say he's not interested," she said.
A Wellington cafe, Chocolate Fish, still has a cardboard cutout of Connery in the window last week, put there after Seatoun residents claimed they had spotted him in the seaside cafe. Told he was no longer coming, cafe owner Penny Pennington, said: "Oh no. How terrible. What a shame. Think of the thousands of hearts he's going to be breaking."
13th June 1999
The Sunday Star Times (Sarah Catherall)